The threat of biological and chemical terrorism is timely in Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, director Shinichiro Watanabe's big-screen translation of the popular Japanese comic books (or manga) and animated TV show, seen in the U.S. on the Cartoon Network. But the setting is Mars 2071, in an appropriately chilling, futuristic city of ultramodern technology beset by the timeless problems of a dehumanizing urban environment. In this sprawling metropolis, the ''Bebop'' crew -- three sulky, freelance bounty hunters tired of eating noodles, a weird kid, and a dog -- are lured by big reward money into the hunt for a suspect after a freeway tanker explosion kills hundreds of people.
The movie honors the affectless beauty of the original anime art and maintains the outlaw boppiness of the series concept, with its renegade protagonists who do good in spite of themselves. (Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, the girl called Ed, and the dog called Ein all possess obsessively intricate back stories.) Of course, I can't say whether scholars will accept the film's inevitable ramping up of typical action-thriller showdowns to fill nearly two hours of screen time. But as a nonscholar, I appreciate all action busyness, however simplistic, because when ''Bebop'''s anime characters stand still, chirping their strangely stilted, dubbed talk and not moving their strangely blank faces, I feel lost on Mars myself.